(Written 9/08 – the first installment in a continuing series)
I love my squash. The vigorous vines completely cover the garden area set aside for them, and then they embark on travels into the lawn, over the fence, and into the other vegetables. The fact that they are ready to occupy any bit of free space they can find works out with my gardening style. The vines don’t seem to mind if I aim them in another direction when they head for the carrots, but the strawberries are long done for the season, so let the squash go there. My favorites are the good keeping winter squash, especially the sweet ones like the Buttercup and Kabocha varieties. A few years ago I grew exclusively Buttercup and had some very tasty meals. One particularly nice squash seemed to ask to have its seeds saved – and this started me on a new adventure.
Often when I plant squash seeds in hills freshly prepared with a generous shovelful of compost, I have to guess which seedlings are from my purchased seeds and which are volunteers from the compost. I have grown the volunteers enough times to know that usually the results are less than satisfactory. Squash love to cross with one another and the crosses are often watery, flavorless stringy “gordian squashkins”. These days I usually plant my seeds exactly 5 inches from the center stake in the ordinal directions so I can distinguish my seeds from the volunteers. So it was with trepidation that I planted seeds from my yummy Buttercup that first year – but the seeds came true to form. In fact, my seeds made better squashes than the commercial seed I bought that year. There seems to be a little “something extra” in my saved seed. The squashes vary quite a bit from plant to plant, but most are very good to eat.
This year I am playing with squash sex. Taping the flowers shut the night before and then hand pollinating the flowers the next morning before the bees can mix the Hubbard with the Kabocha. As soon as you – human intervener – decide which individuals are the parent squash for the next generation, all kinds of questions come up. Do I want to momma and papa to be the same plant, or is it less incestuous if they are siblings? I don’t want to lose all of the diversity that my seeds exhibit, but I need to select for quality – whats the best way? Then there is the plant that has four beautiful fruits but isn’t flowering much anymore. I really want to hand pollinate something on that plant!
I’m going to have a bunch of special squash this winter and lots of new seeds to test next year. Like any good adventure, I am looking forward to the next installment.